ATLANTA --- This was the time, if ever it would happen, for Maryland to begin salvaging its season and its postseason prospects with some measure of steadiness.
But no. These are the Yo-Yo Terps, perpetually up and down and predictably inconsistent, just as they have been since conference play began.
Wednesday was no exception. Fresh off a ho-hum rout of Clemson, the Terrapins turned in a 78-68 clunker at Georgia Tech to deal a serious blow to any NCAA tournament at-large hopes they still possessed.
"I just think we played a little soft tonight,” freshman center Shaquille Cleare said. “That can't happen. You have to have a lion mentality. You have to have a heart of a champion. We come all the way to Georgia to lose, we might as well stay in College Park and shoot free throws.”
The monotony of foul shots easily trumps the latest stumble for Maryland (19-9, 7-8 ACC), which saw one of its long-standing problems resurface in its first double-digit loss to the Yellow Jckets (15-12, 5-10) since 2004.2
Nick Faust, owner of two turnover-free games last week, tied a career-high with six giveaways. Pe’Shon Howard wasn’t any better, limited to eight minutes thanks to his shot-chucking ways.
Even for this bunch, the point guards were adrift from the start.
"Our point guard play the first half was about as bad
as it's been,” coach Mark Turgeon said.
“Nick was bad. Pe'Shon's decision-making both times he was in was terrible. Seth [Allen] forced some things. I was just begging them in timeouts, the point guard play has to be better. It just wasn't very good.”
But it wasn’t the worst part.
That honor was saved for defense, where Maryland couldn’t contain Robert Carter Jr. (19 points and 10 rebounds) or much of anyone else for that matter.
Turgeon was disappointed as the Yellow Jackets busted open a double-digit lead early in the second half and were never seriously threatened in the final 15 minutes. His counterpart was utterly elated.
"We scored 78 points,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “It's like a minor miracle."
Well, maybe not against Maryland on one of its bad days, and this surely was one of those.
The Terps already saw their wiggle room eroded last week with a befuddling loss at Boston College, and might have turned it all in with their latest effort. There is only so much to gain from sweeping through Wake Forest, North Carolina and Virginia to close out the regular season, and no recent track record to suggest Maryland would win three in a row anyway.
The Terps cannot fix their pitiful nonconference schedule strength. They can only modestly improve a 3-7 record away from Comcast Center.
In the macro, things are unpleasant. The micro wasn’t any better Wednesday.
“We didn't play smart today,” center Alex Len said. “We were intense and we were trying to execute and go faster and it hurt us. We didn't make smart decisions.”
So Maryland finds itself questioning its on-court smarts, examining its point guard situation yet again, trying to determine what ails its defense and asking itself just how to thrive away from the comforts of home.
All this as the calendar is about to turn to March --- just one more bad sign on a night full of them.
“We had seven or eight guys who tried hard,” Turgeon said. “But the decision-making, it's hard. It's tough. It wears you out.”
That, it seems, is the price of dealing with the Yo-Yo Terps each day.
--- Patrick Stevens